FURY is a powerful new play set against the backdrop of a Peckham council flat. A darkly comic tragedy, FURY takes an unapologetic look at a young single mum society has forgotten. Tackling themes of motherhood, class, social culpability and the abuse of power, the production paints a contemporary picture of an ever-changing and increasingly gentrified landscape of London.
FURY is written by award-winning new playwright Phoebe Eclair-Powell and directed by Hannah Hauer-King.
Phoebe is the finalist for Soho Theatre’s Verity Bargate Award for emerging playwrights and the winning script of Soho Theatre’s 2015 Young Writer’s Award, FURY – developed in Soho Theatre’s Young Writers’ programme – follows Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s critically acclaimed debut production Wink at Theatre 503 last year. Phoebe is currently Soho Theatre’s Writer in Residence following support from Channel 4’s Playwrights’ Scheme.
Hannah is the Artistic Director of Damsel Productions alongside co-founder and Producer Kitty Wordsworth, FURY follows the company’s debut and critically acclaimed production of Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land at Jermyn Street Theatre last year. The production with its ‘hard-hitting’ abortion scene fuelled mainstream discussion about graphic depictions on stage, setting the tone for the company dedicated to putting women at the forefront of storytelling and theatre. FURY marks Hauer-King’s first major show at Soho Theatre following a residency as Associate Director in 2015.
We caught up with Phoebe and Hannah to find out more about what we can expect from FURY, their inspirational careers to date and their thoughts on women in society.
What inspired you to write FURY and tackle sensitive issues such as motherhood, youth and class?
I was on Soho Theatre’s Writer’s Lab and at the time they gave us an exercise – the person next to you had to give you a family saying as a starting point for a monologue. I got ‘Don’t mug yourself’ from fellow playwright Yasmin Joseph and from it came a very angry young mum’s voice – she was tired, pissed off with having the weight of the world on her shoulders and no money in her pockets. I just fell in love with this character and the story she had to tell.
As the play grew I realised I had been thinking about this character for a while, she was represented in my own fear of motherhood, my downstairs neighbour at the time who was a youngish single mother, and a friend who started seeing someone who had three kids at a young age – all these mums suddenly came into my life and I was intrigued by the way the way motherhood was both revered, judged and feared by society – which is why I went back to the text of Medea – the ultimate play about the role of mother. I also wanted to write about a changing London – I was born and grew up in Camberwell and lived in Peckham, and now New Cross Gate and I have seen it change for good and for worse – it’s a bit of a scary mess London right now and it feels more, now than ever – that people are falling through the cracks at an alarming rate – and we don’t have the ability, time or empathy to help anymore.
Do you think there is an elitist movement in feminism with middle-class married women getting mass press coverage about their pay, getting onto boards and maternity leave VS working class single mothers/women who appear to be shunned out of the conversation? Can you explain your reasons for your answer?
Oh wow – what an interesting question. I must admit this wasn’t the impetus behind Fury exactly, although it does tie into it. I think that sadly it’s hard to have any social, political movement that doesn’t start to veer towards elitism – especially when the media focuses in on a certain narrative which then feeds that elite – so I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t think it’s the fault of those married middle class mums who are sharing their story about pay/work/career goals and kids – but the representation of it – especially in converse to the narrative of the single young mum – the hideously false one of the scrounger, the benefits cheat, the ‘chav’ on the bus with the screaming kids that’s what’s really shaken me. I think as a freelancer you live in the world of the mum’s on busses and you spend your day on the same sort of rota – and you see just how friggin tough it is to raise kids –especially when this government seems to enjoy making it harder for those in the worst economic situation and areas.
It’s a huge media bias to make these people out to be some sort of social ‘problem’ – because they have no economic ‘ability’ – they aren’t ‘contributing’ except they very much are. It’s a horrible paradox surely – raise the next generation of society in a recession but be seen as draining the resources of that society – what a horrific box to be stuck in. How truly messed up is that when you think about it!
I’m trying to think of positive headlines now about mums from a lower socio-economic background and I can only really think of the East 15 mums– and even then it’s rare and yet they are true heroines. It’s clearly a media bias – a media which likes to prop up the status quo, and reinforces the idea that some people’s megaphones are set to louder than others.
I think, however, that what Fury came out of was how hideous it was that mums are judged and reprimanded in a way that ignores the father in all of this. It’s that which is my main issue – mums, whether middle, upper or lower socio-economic class are talked about, condemned and dictated to in relation to their parenting skills – unlike men.
I suppose that’s why I wanted to write a play about judgement. I took all those stereotypes and put them into Sam, my main character, I made her purposefully problematic to see just how our sympathies work when faced with a character we are used to seeing negatively.
I suppose that’s my answer for now – it may seem a little naïve, I think in the past few years I have had my eyes opened a lot more – and I’m still waking up to how feminism works in the mainstream media – and within its own political sphere. I have had to review my place on that spectrum and within my own privilege. Which is why I am so glad I was teamed up with Damsel productions for Fury – a female led production company run by the brilliant Hannah Hauer-King and Kitty Wordsworth whose aim is to work with female playwrights and put female storylines front and centre. They completely got the challenge of Sam – and what I was trying to look at from a complex and oblique angle. And ran with it.
What can the audience expect from FURY and what message do you want them to take away from the production?
I want them to come out of Fury and argue in the bar – in a good way. I want them to help the next mum or dad they see with their pram up the stairs on the tube. I want them to find out who their neighbour is. I want them to remember that the headlines are not to be trusted. I want them to think before they shake their heads at the screaming kid on the bus.
What else do you have coming up?
I am very lucky to have a few things coming up after FURY, including two Edinburgh shows (three shows in two months – never again…) one about my conflicting notion of my own personal feminism set to rock songs called TORCH at Latitude and Underbelly and another called Epic Love and Pop Songs which looks at childhood best friends and lying – all to your favourite tracks from the school disco, which is on at the Pleasance in Edinburgh and in Islington. I then have some lovely if slightly scary commissions and I am developing some telly stuff – but have a lot to learn in that area!
What made you start Damsel Productions and why is it so important to the theatre industry?
Damsel is something that started quite organically. I’d always been encouraged to start a theatre company but had never really found the right concept or impetus. But when Dry Land came up Kitty and I wanted to set up a company to support the project, as well as something that could be a smaller cog in what needs to be a much larger movement for women in theatre. It’s so crucial that female artists actively support one another, and tackle gender imbalance in a proactive and positive way.
You manage an all-female team, was this a conscious decision?
Now it certainly is, but at the time it was very incidental. I remember sitting in a café meeting with our all-female production team with laptops and technical agendas at the ready, and a person walked by and casually remarked, “how wonderful it was to see a group of young women working together.” We all looked at each other and let the comment sink in, and haven’t looked back since. And as I’ve always been drawn to female writers and plays centred around female-based issues, I guess it’s natural that the creative team drawn to a project like Dry Land were largely female.
What do you think about the heforshe movement that wants men to play an important part of the conversation around women and society?
I think it’s fantastic! Any movement trying to promote gender equality and support for underrepresented groups in the arts is fantastic by me. Damsel is just taking another approach – though it’s positive to have men engaging in these issues I ultimately think it’s crucial that women are empowering their fellow women, and if others want to join the conversation that’s a huge bonus.
Only 29% of directors in big theatres are women, why do you think the numbers are so low? What do you think needs to be done to get this number to 50%?
Really hard to say! I could be heavy handed and just assume its because we live in a society built on the foundations of patriarchy, and that therefore the evolution of female leaders is always going to be gradual. But I also think the role of the director can often be misperceived as of having dominantly “male” attributes – collected, in control, able to lead a room (obviously these are vastly gendered and sexist assumptions). In terms of what can be done – a prioritisation of getting women in the room and improving statistical female representation sounds obvious but certainly necessary.
Why did you decide to get involved with FURY and become the Director?
I wish I could pretend it was all my idea! Phoebe and I were actually paired together by Soho, so it was much more about them identifying the potential for a good artistic collaboration. I’d read the piece for the Verity Bargate Award previously and had loved it, so when Soho asked if I would direct the workshop and reading in January I was thrilled. It was then a matter of getting the reading right and showing the potential of this fantastic piece.
What else do you have coming up at Damsel Productions?
We’ll (hopefully) have a bit of a breather post Fury – but come summer we’re working with Ellie Kendrick on new play TABS (runner up of the Bruntwood prize last year and developed at the Royal Court) in the hope of a future production. We’re also working on the re-launch of the Crazy Coqs cabaret venue and hoping to collaborate with some other all-female teams.
FURY opens from Tue 5 – Sat 30 Jul 2016 at the Soho Theatre. To find out more information and book tickets click here